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While in Congress, Grams kept things iconoclastic, refusing to vote the party line if it disagreed with his own principle of fairness. Grams was voting against his fellow Republicans before it was cool. Watching young tea partyers do the same today makes him wish he could be a part of that with them, he said. “The juices get flowing and you wish you were there again to at least be part of the debate.”
He was a “no” vote, for example, on the 1993 transportation bill. Fairness was his motivator once again: It didn’t make sense to him that Minnesotans should have to pay for federal subsidies to public transit systems on the eastern seaboard. Party leadership tried to convince him otherwise — “I can still feel the finger in my chest,” he said — but he stood his ground.
“I think I gained some respect. I hope I did,” he said. “I was never confronted like that again.”
That was only the beginning for Grams. In later years in the Senate, dairy provisions in the farm bill brought annual tussles with Mississippi’s Thad Cochran. Grams argued that outdated price regulations gave an unfair advantage to regional producers, including those in Mississippi, whose supply had matured past the point of needing a boost from taxpayers.
And his view on agricultural regulations came from very personal experience. When he was a boy, regulations weren’t especially pervasive, but Grams said he’s witnessed an unfortunate transformation of the industry with the growth of the provisions. “Because of the farm bill, there [aren’t] many seeds that go into the ground today that aren’t under some government program,” he said.
“To have any success, farmers are almost forced into it,” Grams continued. That stands in sharp contrast to his grandfather, who in his day refused to participate in the Soil Bank Program, a conservation provision in the Agricultural Act of 1956. “Nobody’s gonna tell him how he’s going to operate his land,” Grams recalled.See You on the Radio
Back at home, he owns Little Falls Radio in Little Falls, Minn., and hosts an hourlong talk segment that allows him to get riled up on the politics of the day, albeit from afar. “It’s just a lot of fun. I kind of rant and rave a little bit now and then,” he said. “Being a conservative Republican, I’ve got a slant to my perspective.”
There’s a part of him that’s perpetually drawn to what’s happening in Washington, perhaps a result of growing up in a family that was active in local politics. He’s got a full life in Minnesota — the farm, the radio stations, his wife, 18 grandchildren and a 90-year-old mother who’s still in very good health by his judgment — but his eyes keep turning east.
That part of him is what led him to agree, after some convincing, to help his old friend Chip Cravaack settle in when the younger Minnesota Republican was elected to the House in 2010. Grams worked as chief of staff and enjoyed the feeling of being among old friends again.